One Persian Gulf, Two Different Strategies

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

At the acme of the so-called “Arab Spring” in May 2011, there was news about accession of Morocco and Jordan to (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC].

The Council was established in reaction to Iran’s internal developments in 1981. However, never before 2011 have Iran and the Council been pitched against each other in two different fronts with different strategies and allies on both sides of the Persian Gulf.

The northern front is led by Iran and is a resistance-based front opposing west’s policies in the region. On the southern rim of the Persian Gulf, there is the second front which is quite conservative in nature and is led by Saudi Arabia.

The confrontation between the two fronts has given rise to new equations in the Persian Gulf one of which is assimilation of Morocco and Jordan by (P)GCC.

The main point is the relationship between the aforesaid strategies and global views and attitudes. The relationship between the two fronts can be studied in two parts:
Iran’s relations with big powers and Saudi Arabia’s relations with big powers.

These two fronts have also taken different approaches to freedom seeking developments in the region, especially in Bahrain, and other Arab countries.

Iran has been supporting the uprisings in Bahrain and other Arab nations using its soft power potentials and has called for global support for them. On the opposite, Saudi Arabia has formed a regional alliance to suppress those movements by resorting to hard power of the member states of (P)GCC.

Institutionalization of these strategies and their requirements will have consequences for regional and international security arrangements. Increasing militarization in the region and continued presence of transregional powers as a result of the regional arms race and introduction of international players like NATO into regional equations are among those consequences. “Oil for security” is the age-old logic used by big powers to respond to developments in the Persian Gulf.

Increasing interactions between (P)GCC and Iran should be taken into consideration. Iran has been the most important subject of the Council's various statements since its inception. Now, as a result of the influences of transregional powers on the Council’s decision and assimilation of new members, on the one hand, and in view of Iran’s increasing regional clout, on the other hand, escalation of tension in Iran’s relations with the Council is quite a possibility.

The escalation of tension in bilateral relations will spur Iranian foreign policy elites to officially and unofficially look for new security structures for the region by reliance on allied countries that care for Iran’s security concerns.

Given Iran’s motivations and tension with (P)GCC, it would not be realistic to expect improvement in relations between Iran and the Council and increased cooperation in the near future.

As a result of the existing circumstances, relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are also expected to become gradually tenser.

Thus, both sides of the Persian Gulf are under mounting global pressure concurrent with the Arab Spring and are following two challenging strategies, though possibility of military confrontation is out of the question.

Regardless of which strategy will prevail through this challenge, the main point is the negative impact of such political currents on identities, structures, regional development trends as well as political and human capacities of two important Persian Gulf players, that is, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Which player has been marked by international system to be the winner of this new regional game?